4 September 2008

Tour of Ireland #1

The drive to Ireland was going to be a mission, so we had a bit of a change of plan, to try and miss arriving around London during rush hour. But like all good plans, they sound good on paper, but are sometimes hard to extrapolate in the real world. But we wouldn’t know that yet, as we left for the first leg of the journey. We made our way to the bottom of Belgium to stay with some friends of my second mechanic for the week, this was close to the ferry where we would leave France for England. A good sleep, and early start, and we were heading to Calais, for the first ferry of the trip. We were nice and early for the boat, but a half an hour getting hassled at England’s passport control, saw our head-start slipping away. I don’t get trouble anywhere in the world really with my passport, but my man on the border decided that I was a risk to mother England, and he had to ask a million questions before he passed me through. There are quite a few stamps in my current passport, but he was concerned about the number of Aussie stamps I had. I had to restrain myself as he questioned me again and again over my travels for the year, was he jelous? But sooner or later we were waiting in line, for the first long wait of the day. Seems like there was plenty of bookings, so we missed the early boat and had to wait for the one we were booked on. Finally a few hours later, we were underway. We landed in England for the third leg, with a drive to though to Holyhead in Wales, for the second ferry of the day. But this was the next day really, as we were booked on the 3am boat. Another 4 hours waiting, so I watched a movie on the laptop, Steph slept (lucky for him) in the kitchen of the truck on one of the massage tables for a few hours till we boarded.

The White Cliffs of Dover, about to land in England. Can you see the truck?

A couple of hours and we landed in Ireland, at the ungodly hour of 5.45am in Dublin. Most of the riders were arriving later in the day, so we had a plan of a few hours sleep, then some work later on in the afternoon. All I could think of by now was a shower and a nice bed to sleep in, it was going to be great. But like the rest of our plans for the trip, things were not getting any better. Seems the rooms were still full, and they had to clear out the people in them, and clean them. The rooms might be ready at 11am, shit, more delays. We set the truck up, and the two mechanics and two soigneurs, were walking around like zombies now. Having trouble thinking, and walking around not quite focusing on what we were doing, it was hilarious, at least I was feeling as bad as the others. Just hope we get a bit of sleep before we work on the bikes today, the race started the next morning, so we had to be on to it. We had seven riders, but four of the bikes were arriving on the same ferry the next day with the bus driver. He had a bit more travelling than us, as he was coming from the race in France, so we had an hour of so in the morning to sort them, so things were getting tighter all the time. The rooms came available, and just in the nick of time, I hit the bed, managed to shut my eyes and relax for 3 hours, sleep was not possible, but I tried it anyway. We had work to do, seven spare bikes, three race bikes, and a whole load of wheels to sort out. Everything needed to be ready before we crashed out for the night, as time would be at a premium on race morning.

Some of the wicked countryside, the clouds were thick and the air damp, classic Ireland weather. Stage 1

I slept like a rock, one of those sleeps where you wake up just where you fell, not a single turn or movement the whole night. 5.30am came around sooner than I hoped, but the bikes would be arriving at 6am, so we had no time to spare. Bart, the bus driver arrived on time, and we could sympathise with his weariness, as he almost dove the same route as us the day before. We cleaned and checked and prepared the last four bikes, just in time to head to the first stage of the tour. Right in the middle of Dublin, only 12km drive, but it was going to take about an hour, according to the locals. The traffic was as bad as we thought, but we arrived on time, and managed to park outside a nice café, just what I needed, a serious caffeine hit. The team was feeling good, and there was plenty to catch up on with the boys, some of them I had not seen for a few months, and one, Michael Barry I had not even meet before. But we had a race on, and I needed to police the bikes a little, the locals were just a bit too friendly with them. The race started, and luckily there was 16km neutral start, as the city was full with traffic and small roads. Think they had not told most of the town, as there were some pretty angry punters around, shaking their fists in the air as we cruised past, welcome to Ireland I thought to myself.

A nice vista heading down to yet another lake, stage 2

As the race start was given, the attacks were on, starting with every small team that was entered in the race, and you don’t blame them really. A small group of four were away in the first hour, getting about 7 mins away from the pack, but it was not to be. We started hunting them down, and with help from no other teams, we ended up doing it all ourselves. Having the world’s best sprinter on your team, does not inspire other teams to chase down the break for a bunch sprint. So we chased them down all ourselves, and Mark sprinted and won, second place going to the Kiwi, Julian Dean, and we were in the yellow jersey for the second stage. Stage two was much like stage one, with multiple teams attacking right from the gun, it was going to be a tough day for the boys, but they like it that way. After countering many attacks, some of the groups very dangerous, one rider got away, the current Swedish TT champ. He got a maximum of 7 mins away, and the team kept control on the front all day. Then it was time to chase again, a flat finish, so another chance with Cavendish for the win, so we went for it. We manage to get him easily, as he was slowing down severely in the last 10 km. Just as we hit about 8km to go, there was a massive pileup, there was a load of riders and bikes down. But I suppose the lucky thing about working all day on the front was the fact that the whole team was safe. We battled on, and just as we hit the 1km to go banner, another huge crash, this time taking out about 15 riders, things were getting dangerous as he bunch tried for the last attacks. I was lucky again, all safe, and as I just got my composure back, we heard Cavendish had won again, sweet, two in a row, and still in the lead. Julian Dean moving into second place, about 12 secs off Cav now.

Cavendish getting harrangled by the press before the start of stage 3

With stage three about to start, the rain that had been hanging around for the first few days, decided to pay us a visit. There had been no sun, sort of a overcast, showery, damp feel to the air all week. I was told it was the worst summer on record, so we were lucky with three fine days so far. The landscape was pretty green, much like little ol NZ, so that I think is where the comparison comes in. As for the rolling hills, they are almost the same, but then it stops there. Stone walls, shit small roads and scraggly looking forests, are quite different to what we see in the NZ countryside, add a whole load of trees to the farms, and then we are talking similarities. But stage three was about to start, and the boys were now looking a bit ragged, Franki and Berni were the worst of the bunch, getting dropped in the last stage near the end, they would be suffering today. But with the team owning the yellow jersey, their work was about to get harder, as more of the teams were getting hungry for a win. As we set off, there was the usual attacks happening. Sitting back in the caravan, seeing and hearing on their radios of all the attacks, you just can’t help feel a bit for the boys. Yelling out instructions, and fending off many attacks, one after another, it was going to hurt today for them. Finally two were let out of the bunch, a nice easy catch when we need to, gaining a maximum of 4 mins, we kept them at arms length all day.

And the boys are off to work for the day, and they will be working hard to day.

Near the end of the stage, we hear that one of the two escapees had crashed just over the top of the biggest climb of the day. The roads were wet, and the boys were warned over the radio about the danger. But just as we headed down the descent, a huge crash happened. With two of the boys down, Adam Hansen and Cavendish, we sprung into action. The road was blocked, as Adam was down and cut up pretty bad on his elbow, three long gashes (sorry missed taking a pic, so did Adam before they covered it). Cav was up and gone before we got there, so we left it in the hands of our Doctor (who was in the second car) and carried on. Cav was fine, bar a huge hit and graze to the hip, his bike was not too bad, Adam stopped the race, and the joy of stiches to look forward to. When we were ready we reeled them in for the finish, and what a finish. The sprint was a nasty one, with Dean sitting on Cav's wheel, ready for the attack. But the little guy came through again, with a hattrick, three from three, the team was pretty stoked. A bit of celebrating for the team, and a whole lot of work changing cassettes for the coming two days of mountains for me. We would be lucky to keep the jersey past today, but we had a secret plan, now to implement it.

And if you didn't see my last post, more pics are here and here.

1 comment:

Oli Brooke-White said...

Nice one, Benny. You really bring the race scene to life mate. Cheers, Oli